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Since 2013, I've been helping small businesses look as good as the work they do. This is where I post tips, new work, studio news, and all things branding and design. Take a look around and don't forget to say "hi!". 

FILED IN: tips, websites

themes vs. custom website design: which one is the right fit?



A couple of posts ago I talked about making sure your price tag matches your branding. Now, I want to talk a bit about how to make sure your site is meeting your needs and helping you make the sales you need to grow your business. One question I feel I get on a weekly basis from new clients is, “Do I really need a custom site?”. It’s no secret that custom WordPress sites are kind of our jam around here, but I promise you this post won’t be totally self-serving. I want to break down some of the differences between custom sites and themes or templates so you can make the right investment for your stage of business. Grab your coffee and let’s dive in.


Themes and Templates

WordPress themes, Squarespace templates, Shopify templates, just to name a few. All great platforms with different features. In my opinion, using one of these options is great for a business just starting out. Not only are they much cheaper than a custom site, but you can also learn how your business is going to work online. Especially for e-commerce! You have the ability to quickly change layouts, designs, and even functionality on a whim. If you are at the beginning stage of your business, you might not have established your brand just yet. Themes let you try on a bunch of “outfits” so to speak.  There are usually extensive documentation and (hopefully) user guides if you run into an issue. However, you aren’t always guaranteed quick support if something goes wrong (your site breaks, your forms aren’t working, etc.). This can be frustrating and anxiety-inducing. As with any product, some companies are better than others with customer service. What you gain in time with the quick set up and premade design, you lose with a steep learning curve and adding all your content yourself. Again, as a new business, this might be ok. Once you are up and running, you just might not have the time to sit and teach yourself how to use the site and spend hours customizing the theme to stand out. Often the backend of a site can be a little complicated and not intuitive. Most themes offer way too many features, trying to cover a much wider base of users and businesses. In most cases around 70% of the features and functionality will not be used and will just make the website cumbersome to use. You will need to familiarize yourself and not be afraid to jump in!

Verdict: there are gorgeous, well-made themes and templates that will give your business a professional web presence for a low price. Spend the money you save here on your photography to make these premade designs really bring the wow-factor and make you unique. Many people might be using your same theme, so make yours stand out with personal touches.


Completely Custom

Ok, now on to our specialty, the custom WP site. As you probably already know, WordPress is a blogging platform and is the industry standard as far as websites go. With that being said, totally custom sites are coded from scratch and installed “on top” of WordPress. The options can be pretty limitless with the right team. I think my number one pro for custom sites is the lack of restrictions design wise. You aren’t “boxed” in and forced to color within the lines of a template. This is especially important for my clients who have just rebranded and want to relaunch with a bang or have grown out of their starter site. Since the site is custom, we can design and develop it to perfectly match their new branding – down to the detail. It’s a win/win for me! I’m able to work in beautiful details and thoughtful elements anywhere in the design. This allows me to bring the branding through in ways that just might not be possible with a theme. The icing on the cake is that the backend of the site, “under the hood”, is beautifully easy to navigate and update. There isn’t a steep learning curve because it’s so simple and intuitive. For example, the admin panel is created to be as intuitive as possible so that no coding knowledge is needed, just click and drag around. We pride ourselves on giving you exactly what you need, where you need it. There’s also the added bonus of having quick, personalized support! Custom sites are flexible and can also grow with your business. You can start small and add new features and pages as you evolve.

I think that’s the magic we bring: creating beautiful, sometimes complex site designs and making them time efficient for busy clients so they can get back to running their businesses. The drawback for some clients is the financial investment and in-depth, often time-consuming process of design and development: creating content, gathering photos, thinking through exactly how they want their site to work for them.


Verdict: Invest in a custom site after you’ve been in business for a bit and have learned your way around the online component of your business. Understand your clients. Understand what you want to say. Invest in great photography first to set you on the right path. This will bring you new business and the money to invest in your custom site when you’re ready to go all in! 


So, it’s probably easy to see where I stand here! Hopefully, this helps clear up some questions about which option is the right fit for your stage of business. I always love hearing from you, so reach out and let me know your thoughts!


Are you planning a rebrand? There are only a couple of spots left for 2016! Head on over and start the conversation! 



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